Link Between Self-Consciousness and Depression in Children

self-conscious teen girl

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Broody, introspective, self-conscious, even self-absorbed, are words parents might use to describe their teens from time to time. While it's true that many preteens and adolescents demonstrate these characteristics, research has shown there may be a link between depression in children and increased self-focus.

In general, people with depression tend to think about themselves, examine their personalities, mull over their feelings, and question their motives more than non-depressed people do. While depression in children and adults can look (and feel) different, these tendencies may be shared by people with depression regardless of age.

How Self-Consciousness Manifests in Children 

At first, it may sound counter-intuitive that a person with depression would be self-focused, but the reality is that depression tends to give people a heightened sense of self-consciousness.

In turn, self-consciousness or a negative sense of self-awareness tends to increase negative emotional states (such as sadness, hopelessness, or anger). In these states, a person is more likely to focus on setbacks and negative experiences, which continues to feed the emotional cycle of depression.

A child who is depressed might perseverate on a disagreement they had with a friend or be extremely worried and upset about a poor grade they received on a test.

Studies have indicated that female children may be especially vulnerable to depression during the preteen years due to chronic peer stress combined with other environmental and genetic factors.

How Depression Manifests in Children

Depression can look and feel different for everyone who experiences it, but there can be some notable differences in how depression manifests in children compared to adults. For example, while an adult who is depressed may feel and seem sad, a child is more likely to appear irritable.

Children are still learning how to identify and explain how they feel, which can make it more difficult for caregivers to notice depression. However, there are some symptoms of depression in children that are easier to spot.

Your child may not display all of the symptoms, or may only show certain ones at specific times or in a particular environment (such as at home or school).

A child who is depressed may show or experience:

  • Academic decline
  • Extreme shyness
  • Intense sadness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite change
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Vague physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomaches, joint pain) that are unexplained (not due to a medical condition, food allergy, etc.)

If you are concerned about your child's wellbeing, don't hesitate to ask your pediatrician for help. They can connect you with mental health resources in the community or even your child's school to ensure they get the support they need.

Self-Consciousness in Depressed Children

A child who appears self-absorbed or self-conscious is not necessarily depressed. In general, all children go through periods of self-absorption and self-focus and may display feelings of self-consciousness. In fact, these behaviors are a normal stage of child development.

But if your child's self-consciousness is extreme and they have persistent symptoms of depression (generally lasting longer than two weeks), you'll want to discuss their behavior with your pediatrician. They will rule out other causes for your child's symptoms, such as a medical condition or a different mental health disorder.

When to Take Action

It can be very difficult for a child to navigate a depressive state. Negative thoughts, self-consciousness, and intense emotions tend to be cyclic and can have a compounding effect, leading to more negative thoughts and feelings.

Children may not understand the feelings they have, and they may be afraid or ashamed of how they feel. Even if you ask them directly, they may not be able to express to you that they are depressed.

As adults do, children and teens with depression need help as they learn to navigate, and eventually manage, the condition. If your child is depressed, counseling can help them cope with the cycle.

If you think your child might be depressed, don't try to diagnose the condition yourself. Your child's pediatrician, a mental health provider, and school counselor can work together to properly evaluate your child. Accurate diagnosis and comprehensive treatment are essential for managing depression at any age.

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Article Sources
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  1. Watkins E, Teasdale JD. Adaptive and maladaptive self-focus in depressionJournal of Affective Disorders. 2004;82(1):1-8. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2003.10.006

  2. Sloan DM. It’s All About Me: Self-Focused Attention and Depressed MoodCognitive Therapy and Research. 2005;29(3):279-288. doi:10.1007/s10608-005-0511-1

  3. Reynolds, Cecil R, and Randy W Kamphaus. Handbook of Psychological and Educational Assessment of Children: Personality, Behavior, and Context. 2, e ed., vol. Chapter 12: Assessment of Childhood Depression, New York, N.Y., Guilford Press, 2003, pp. 259–283.

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